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Pet Dental Cleaning: What You Should Know

The importance of veterinary dental care cannot be overstated. Neglecting to care for your pet’s teeth can result in problems and higher costs later.

Dental disease is incredibly common among cats and dogs. The American Veterinary Dental College estimates that by age 3, most dogs and cats have developed evidence of periodontal disease (gingivitis and the loss of bone and soft tissue around the teeth).

During a general veterinary checkup, your vet should include an examination of your pet’s mouth. From there your vet can determine if you should consider a pet dental cleaning.

Why Pets Need Dental Cleanings

Poor oral hygiene causes more than just bad breath. When plaque on teeth isn’t removed regularly, it turns into hard tartar. Both plaque and tartar irritate the gums and can result in infection. While plaque can be brushed off at home, tartar requires veterinary attention.

As conditions worsen, an animal can suffer from oral pain, abscesses, gum separation, loss of bone that supports the teeth and tooth loss. Bacteria originating in the mouth can travel into the bloodstream and inflict damage on the pet’s kidneys, heart and other organs.

Signs Your Pet Needs a Dental Cleaning

Signs that your pet might need a veterinary dental cleaning include:

  • Bad breath
  • Poor appetite (due to oral pain)
  • Discolored teeth
  • Receding and/or bleeding gums
  • Sneezing and nasal discharge (from an abscess that breaks into the nasal passages)
  • Drooling
  • Loose or missing teeth

What Does a Pet Dental Cleaning Entail?

If your pet would benefit from a dental cleaning, your vet likely will suggest doing some lab tests. These tests ensure your pet can safely undergo the anesthesia necessary to thoroughly clean his teeth.

During the dental cleaning itself, your vet will remove plaque and tartar build-up from all surfaces of your pet’s teeth. The area underneath the gum line also will be cleaned, which is necessary to reduce gum inflammation (gingivitis).

Once his teeth have been scaled, they will be polished to make it more difficult for plaque to redevelop. Your pet’s teeth also might be treated with fluoride or products formulated to slow the return of plaque and tartar.

Other procedures might be necessary depending on the health of your pet’s mouth.

Keeping Your Pet’s Teeth Clean at Home

Since veterinary dental treatments require general anesthesia and can be costly, it’s smart to practice good pet dental care at home. Here are several ways to keep your pet’s teeth clean at home:

If you have a cat, you might be reading this list with some unease. It’s true that cats often are less willing than dogs to get on board with a dental care regimen. If your cat is being resistant, try a product designed to win them over. The Petrodex Veterinary Strength Malt toothpaste cat dental care kit, for example, provides a toothpaste with a feline-friendly malt flavor (no rinse required).

Arming yourself with these resources will reduce the risk of serious dental issues, and if dental disease develops, it can be treated easily when caught early. Taking your pet to the vet for regular check-ups is the best way to set him up for solid, lifelong dental health.


Dr. Jennifer Coates

Dr. Jennifer Coates was valedictorian of her graduating class at the VA-MD Regional College of Veterinary Medicine and has practiced in Virginia, Wyoming, and Colorado in the years since. She is also the author of numerous articles, short stories, and books, including the “Dictionary of Veterinary Terms, Vet-Speak Deciphered for the Non-Veterinarian.” She lives in Fort Collins, Colorado with her husband, children, dog (Apollo), and cat (Minerva).

Featured Image: iStock.com/sara ganzi

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